Gauteng health officials not only handed over psychiatric patients to NGOs, but also handed over sections of a state hospital so the NGOs could house those patients. Patients went hungry because the NGOs ran out of money and at least one died shortly after leaving.
Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi on Wednesday told Parliament that the Gauteng Department of Health acted illegally when it demarcated a section of the Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre for NGOs to operate from.
Motsoaledi told Parliament on Wednesday that private entities were allowed to use sections of the government facility, but those sections were not properly equipped to meet the needs of the psychiatric patients.
"Cullinan Care and Rehab is a government facility and not a mental health care centre. What happened here, which was illegal, is that the provincial health department demarcated a section. It said the demarcated side must be taken over by NGOs. This is a government facility, you can't give it to a private entity," he said.
He said NGOs carried out the work but encountered serious problems which hindered services being rendered. He said they were not paid and subsequently couldn't afford to buy food for the patients.
"The nurses at the hospital stepped in to clean and feed the patients," he said.
Motsoaledi was in Parliament with Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba to give an update on the Life Esidimeni psychiatric patients' deaths. Makgoba said his office was continuing to receive more data from members of the public since his report was published on February 1. In that report, he said 94 patients died after they were moved to NGOs when the department of health in Gauteng implemented cost cutting measures.
The death toll has increased: News24 reported that Makgoba had said the death toll was now sitting at over 100.
"I can say to this committee that we are still collating more data that is coming in of deaths. I am quite confident that the figure is now above 100 deaths as we speak," said Makgoba.
He recommended that the patients should be removed from the 27 NGOs where they were transferred to. He said the NGOs were under-resourced, under-financed and unprepared to take on the influx of mentally ill patients. They also did not have licenses to operate and he recommended that they are closed down.
Motsoaledi said it was going to be difficult to close down the Cullinan government facility as per the recommendations. The other 22 NGOs would be investigated to see if they need to be closed but patients will be removed from there.
He, however, indicated that certain patients were refusing to move from the NGOs because of how their move from Esidimeni was carried out.
"They will have to be convinced by psychologists. It must be done meticulously," he said.
EWN reported that Motsoaledi said criminal cases may be opened at a later stage.
"These are one chief director, five deputy directors, one chair of the mental health review board and the CEO and acting CEO of the Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation Centre. Steps towards disciplinary action have commenced," he said.
In September 2016, News24 reported that Miriam Monyane, the mother of one of the psychiatric patients in Cullinan, said she received a call in the middle of the night from someone at the facility who told her that her son's health was deteriorating. He had cerebral palsy.
"I went there the same night, around 7.20 p.m. to go and fetch him. When I arrived, the security would not let me go in to go see him. They kept me in a waiting area," Monyane told News24.
After some time, the same guard re-emerged from the dark, pushing a hospital bed. Her son Thabo was in it.
"That place is not a prison, he is there to get help, so why are they stopping me from going in to see my child, to take him in my arms and see the place he's been sleeping?"
Struggling to get to her son to the car in the dark with little to no help, Monyane said when she eventually arrived home she bathed him and attempted to feed him because he looked weak.
Her son died the next day.
"They said he had an electrolyte imbalance. He needed minerals, water and he wasn't eating the right food," the anguished mother told News24.